Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are our proposed “environmentally friendly” energies really environmentally friendly?

Are our proposed “environmentally friendly” energies really environmentally friendly?

Everyone nowadays is talking about how they can make the world more “green.” They are talking about many different forms of energy that are not like the traditional forms. These new types of energy are not supposed to use the earth’s non-renewable resources. Instead the new proposed sources of energy use energy that are completely renewable. These energies use the natural resources on earth. Such as: wind, solar, and hydroelectric. My blog will focus on the pros and cons of all of these sources. It will show how many of these energies are actually harming the earth more that than help it.

Wind energy

Wind energy would seem like it would be one of the cleanest energies that could possibly be produced. There are no carbon emissions, no other harmful emissions, and no greenhouse gasses produced in the process. This sounds like the most ideal form of energy that we have, right? Unfortunately this is not entirely the case. Wind energy has many other negatives for the energy it produces. One of these is wind energy produces very little energy for the amount of space and materials required. In order to produce wind energy efficiently, you need to have a very large wind turbine that is hundreds of feet in the air. To do this you need to use a lot of steel and other metals. This however is not a huge problem because steel is recyclable and almost all forms of energy require big infrastructure. One of the main problems associated with wind energy is the amount of land it takes to produce it. Wind turbines must be placed at least half of a mile apart in order to use the wind effectively. If the turbines are too close to one another, they will not be able to get all of the wind that they need. Therefore you will need many acres of land to produce a small amount of energy. In a study conducted in 1970, scientist concluded that it would take 18,000 square miles (about seven percent of the size of Texas) to produce 20 percent of the United States energy demands. Today that number is even larger because we now require much more energy than in 1970. This is not an option in our world. Fortunately this can be partially solved by placing the turbines on farm land. Here the turbines take up virtually no space because they will occupy the same space that the farm does. This however poses even more problems with how we will get the energy to the cities, where we need it most. Most of the time farms are not located right next to cities. This would require a much more extensive electrical grid than what we currently have. Another problem with wind energy is it is a very noisy form of energy. As wind moves the turbine it produces a bunch of sound. This makes it even harder to place the turbines near cities, as people will not like to hear them and the houses property values will decrease. Overall wind energy is not a terrible thing but it does have many limitations. I would not say wind energy is the ideal green energy but it is definitely a form of energy that is not to be ignored.

Solar energy operations generate absolutely zero air pollution. Unfortunately solar energy produces a huge amount of pollution. Where does this pollution come from then, you might ask? The entirety of the pollution produced by solar energy is produced in the production f the solar cells. One of the main problems is the usage of very precious materials. In order to make solar cells that have a very high efficiency you need to use materials such as indium gallium arsenide. This mineral is extremely hard and dangerous to mine and is becoming very scarce in our world. Another bad thing about this mineral is it is considered a blood mineral, or one that is only available at a low cost because of the enslavement of thousands of people. Some scientists concluded that there is only about ten years left of this mineral. We are mining it too quickly to replenish our supplies, and we will run out in that 10 year period. Another problem with solar cells is they can be very difficult and dangerous to produce. The mass amounts of silicon required to produce solar cells is extremely harmful to the lungs if it is breathed in. During production of the solar cells silicon particles can become airborne and go into a person’s lungs. This increases the production cost of solar panels, because the companies must pay for additional safety procedures in order for the particles to not become airborne. One of the biggest problems of solar energy production is the inability to get highly efficient solar panels. In we learn about the following. Traditional solar panels are only around 10 percent efficient. The sun currently provides 6000 times the energy as what we consume from it. Current solar panels are being coated with dark substances, such as pokeberries in order to absorb more of the suns energy. Unfortunately this still only accounts for an efficiency of at most 45 percent. This means that most of what the sun produces is going to waste instead of being converted into useful electric energy. This is by far the biggest problem with current solar panels. Solar cells are becoming much more efficient as technology’s increase, but they are not looking to be in the useful amounts for many years to come. Because of this all of the energy currently made from solar panels is only a fraction of other sources such as wind and hydro-electric. Another huge problem of solar panels is the amount of space they require to produce electricity. Since the current solar panels are so inefficient, we will need many more of them and therefore more land to produce enough energy for solar panels to be effective. Another con of solar energy and one of the reasons they can never be 100 percent effective is the sun is not always shining. At night and during cloudy days the solar panels will not work. This means that no energy is being produced by them. Therefore we will need backup energy sources to take over whenever the sun is not shining. This would take us back to our current sources of energy and not let us strive to future technologies like we want to.

Hydro-electric power like solar and wind energy produces no greenhouse gasses and does not produce any pollution. One of the main problems with hydro-electric power is how it affects the local ecosystems. The dams that are required to create the electricity meagerly disrupt local fish habits. One of the most noticeable instances of this is in salmon. Salmon have to travel very far distances in there mating season in order to get to their mating grounds.  With the creation of a damn the salmon can no longer make the long trip that is necessary to get to their mating grounds. Because of this the fish will die out after only a few generations. Because of the stunning effects on local fish populations dams are now required to make an alternative route for the fish during their mating seasons. This makes it possible to sustain the fish population, but forces the dams to have less water energy to convert into electricity during the mating season. Because of the fish population decreasing, large scale dams are no longer being made to produce electricity. Some smaller dams are still being made but they cannot make nearly as much power as their large scale brothers. So in the end hydro-electricity is very much a dying form of power. This just shows that even if a form of energy is completely free of environmental effects, it is still not perfect, and will have some problems. In the case of hydro-electricity, many of these problems actually outnumber the benefits.

So what does all of this mean?
Obviously there is no “perfect” form of energy. As one of the articles state there is “no free lunch.” By saying this they are saying that "No form of energy generation is completely free of environmental impact.” In order to make electricity we will always have to use some of the earth’s natural resources. These could range from using concrete to build a dam, to using ultra-pure precious materials such as polysilicon to produce solar cells. The perfect form of energy that we can have is the one that uses the least amount of earth’s resources, and allows for very little production of harmful gasses. All of these forms of energy by themselves are not that great, but the real beauty of renewable resources is when you combine them. When you can use some solar and some wind, combined with some current methods you get a fairly efficient form of energy. Some of these types of energy are not very popular anymore like hydro-electric energy. However some new forms such as current solar cells and wind turbines are becoming much more efficient. Because of this some people are investing on future forms of energy to use on a small scale for their own household. This is a great idea because you do not have to wait for the government to decide to implement future energy’s. Instead you can place them on your house to power your own house. The real beauty of this practice is your house will still be connected to the power grid. This will make many of the negatives of solar and wind energies no longer matter. If the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing you will simply draw your power from the electric grid much like you would right now. Also when you are generating more power than you can consume you can allow some of that power to go back into the grid to power other homes. By doing this you will make the electric company actually write you a check. Many of the current ideas for future renewable forms of energy are just that, ideas. Most of them are great ideas, but we have not found a way to harness the energy properly. Before we can use these future energies to their fullest we must discover new technologies to make them more efficient and more environmentally friendly. The forms of energy must be cheap and environmentally friendly to make and to maintain. Renewable environmentally friendly forms of energy are our future and we will learn to use them to their fullest. Until then I am happy that we have reliable fuels. We will need to continue to experiment with these renewable forms of energy as a transition to real efficient renewable energies.

Print Works Cited

Kathirvel, C., and K. Porkumaran. "Technologies For Tapping Renewable Energy: A Survey."

          European Journal Of Scientific Research 67.1 (2011): 112-118. Academic Search Complete.      
          Web. 10 May 2012.

Richards, Garrett, Bram Noble, and Ken Belcher. "Barriers to renewable energy development:          
          A case study of large-scale wind energy in Saskatchewan, Canada." Energy Policy 42 
          (2012), 691-698.